Most travelers who come to Queenstown stop after taking in the staples of this epic little resort town on New Zealand’s South Island.
Bungy jumping. Check. Jetboating. Check. Skydiving. Check.
It seems everything Queenstown has to offer will simultaneously tempt fate, defy gravity, and break the bank.
While these activities (and more) are on offer in the Adventure Capital of the World, the shining light in Queenstown is the huge variety of hiking, biking and simply stunning scenery that sits literally on little Queenie’s doorstep. While you’ll get a taste of what this area of the world has to offer when you hop on the cramped bus to Milford Sound (and you should), to really understand Queenstowns natural beauty, you’ve got to check out some of the exceptional nearby hikes (and bike rides) which are begging to be explored.
Experiencing the beauty of the South Island on your own will blow most guided tours out of the water.
In the past six months, I’ve developed a passion for taking in and really experiencing everything the Southern Lakes of New Zealand has to offer.
It really is the New Zealand way.
There are a couple of fantastic hikes which leave from Queenstowns central Shotover Street. Head up through the Ben Lomond forest, past the AJ Hackett Ledge Bungy site, and head back to towering Ben Lomond. For something less strenuous, check out the hike up to the Queenstown Hill; both afford priceless views of Lake Wakatipu, Cecil Peak and the aptly named Remarkables.
The opportunities for exploration are opened wider if you have your own transportation. If you’ll be in Aotearoa for awhile, consider buying a campervan when you arrive; otherwise, one of the best ways to travel around New Zealand is with your own transportation so hire a car. When you get to Queenstown, head down towards Glenorchy and climb Mount Alfred.
Climbing Mount Alfred
This 1,375 metre peak juts out between the Dart and Rees River valleys and simply begs to be climbed. Natureshop.co.nz recently offered me some hiking gear to sample and I tackled Mount Alfred for the second time with my flatmate Jo, a pair of Keen hiking boots, and a Merino Icebreaker midlayer. Excellent gear for what might just be one of the best day hikes in the greater Queenstown area.
The hike begins from the western side of Mount Alfred in the Dart River valley; follow signposts to the start of the Routeburn Track and you’ll see the carpark where the track begins about 20 kms from quaint Glenorchy.
As usual, DOC (the Department of Conservation) overshoots the realistic time it would take for someone of a reasonable fitness to hike the track; while my flatmate and I managed to do the hike in under four hours, this included a fair bit of running on the decent. Basic hiking should have you to Alfred’s nearly 1,400 metre summit and back in a cool 5 – 6 hours.
This hike is unique to many in New Zealand in that it contains a fantastic mix of hiking through the dense bush, with some scrambling near the top along with panoramic views from the summit.
Even those with a minor affliction to vertigo should be able to handle the scrambling that is a welcomed break-up to the half day adventure.
The first two hours is spent climbing through ancient, moss covered, silver beech forest which is prevalent throughout this area of New Zealand. New Zealand’s largest remaining indigenous forest will keep you company as you climb 600 or 700 metres above the valley on a well defined trail.
As you climb, you’ll cross a number of streams, moss covered felled trees, native New Zealand ferns and roots which have grown over the trail.
I tackled Mount Alfred with these Keen Targhee Mid II hiking boots. They were excellent for the hike with a 4mm sole that provided a solid bit of traction over the slippery roots, rocks and leaf covered trail. While a more rigid boot might have been beneficial, I enjoyed the flexibility that these boots provided. Solid enough to provide some ankle support going up; yet flexible enough to do a bit of a trail running coming down.
About two hours into the climb, you eventually reach the bush line where the beech forest ends and the tussock begins.
Here, the climb really gets interesting.
While the trail isn’t marked from this point on, there are a couple obvious routes that will take you the the plateaued summit. Vere slightly left and an easy scramble will take about 30 minutes to find the top.
Don’t forget to look back and take in the views…
The final scramble to the top is an absolute rush; especially with the cold wind whipping off the valley – it’s a fantastic feeling to finally pull yourself up onto the summit. The 360 degree views are quite simply stunning.
After popping up to the plateaued summit, you can spend time wandering around and taking the views of Lake Wakatipu, the Dart & Rees Valleys, the Humbolts (if the weather is clear!) and majestic Mt Earnslaw.
Be aware the weather patterns can change very quickly in the alpine environment. Looking towards Lake Wakatipu, it was essentially clear blue skies; towards Fiordland, a storm was brewing.
Looking back on Lake Wakatipu.
So when you’re backpacking in Queenstown, don’t make the mistake that many do: check out the bars, yes – jump off a bridge, you bet – just make sure you get out and get into the great outdoors.
Have you been to Queenstown? Add your favorite nearby hikes in the comments section below.
Considering hiking Mount Alfred? Feel free to contact me with questions.
The Natureshop provided me with complimentary gear for this hike but the opinions here are entirely my own; for ‘nature’ inspired products that are friendly to your body and the environment, check out Natureshop.co.nz.